New Readable Chapter 5 - Knowledge Of The World



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1995 Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path translated by Michael Lipson
Number of Words: 6549
Reading Grade Level: 13.0

2016 The Philosophy Of Freedom - New (see below)
Number of Words: 6805
Reading Grade Level: 12.15

Last revised: 11/23/2016


What does it mean to have knowledge of the world?

5.0 Critical Thinking
5.1 The Awakened State Of Thinking
5.2 Thought That Applies To The World
5.3 World Connects With Corresponding Concept
5.4 Process Of Becoming
5.5 Indivisible Existence of Concept With Object
5.6 Isolate And Grasp Single Concepts
5.7 Self Definition Through Thought
5.8 In Thinking We Are The Universal Being
5.9 World Unity Found In Ideal Content
5.10 Corresponding Intuition
5.11 Conceptual Connections Of Percepts
5.12 The Memory-Idea

5.0 Critical Thinking
[1] The preceding discussion has shown that it cannot be proven that our percepts are ideas by examining the content of our observation. This proof is supposedly established by the following argument: "If the perceptual process takes place according to naive-realistic assumptions about our psychological and physiological constitution, then we are not dealing with things-in-themselves, but only with our ideas of things." However, if Naive Realism, when consistently thought through, leads to results that directly contradict its assumptions, then these assumptions must be discarded as an unsuitable basis of a world-view. It is certainly inadmissible to reject the assumptions and yet accept as valid what results from them. The Critical Idealist does this when he uses the line of argument above as the basis for his claim “the world is my idea.” (Eduard von Hartmann gives a detailed account of this line of argument in The Fundamental Problems of Epistemology.)

[2] The truth of Critical Idealism is one thing, the persuasiveness of its proof is another. How things stand with respect to the correctness or otherwise of Critical Idealism, will become clear in the course of our discussion. But the power of its proof to convince is zero. If one builds a house and the ground floor collapses while the first floor is being built, then the first floor collapses with it. Naive Realism is related to Critical Idealism as ground floor is to first floor.

[3] For one who believes the whole perceived world is only an imagined one, an ideal world called up in the mind by unknown things, the problem of cognition will not be concerned with the ideas that exist only in the psyche. Instead, it will focus on the unknown things that lie beyond the reach of his consciousness and exist independent of him. He asks: "How much can we learn about things indirectly, since they are not accessible to our direct observation?" From this standpoint he is not concerned with the connection of his conscious perceptions, since in his view they disappear as soon as he turns his senses away from them. He is concerned with their causes, which are no longer accessible to consciousness and exist independently of him.

Looked at from this point of view, our consciousness acts like a mirror whose images of specific things disappear the moment its reflecting surface is not turned towards them. If we do not see the things themselves but only their reflections, then we must learn about them indirectly by drawing conclusions from the behavior of their reflections. This is the standpoint of natural science. It uses percepts only as a means to obtain information about the material processes standing behind them. For it, only material processes truly exist. If the philosopher, as Critical Idealist, admits real existence at all, then his sole aim is to gain knowledge of this real existence indirectly by means of ideas. His interest skips over the subjective world of ideas and instead is focused on what causes him to have these ideas.

[4] The critical idealist can go so far as to say: “I am enclosed within my world of ideas and cannot escape from it. If I think there is something behind my ideas, this thought, too, is nothing more than an idea." An Idealist of this type will either deny the thing-in-itself entirely, or at least say it has no significance for human minds. Since we can know nothing about it, it is as good as non-existent.

[5] To this type of Critical Idealist, the whole world appears as a disordered dream. Any attempt to gain knowledge of it would be simply meaningless. For him there can be only two kinds of people: (1) biased ones who take their own dream fabrications as reality, and (2) wise ones who see through the nothingness of this dream world, and gradually lose all desire to trouble themselves with it.

From this vantage point, even one's own personality can become a mere dream phantom. Just as during sleep there appears among my dream-images an image of myself, so in waking consciousness the idea of my own Self is added to the idea of the external world. I then have in mind not my real Self, but only my idea of my Self. Whoever denies the existence of real things, or the possibility of knowing anything about them, must also deny the existence, or at least the knowledge, of his own personality.

This leads the Critical Idealist to the declaration, "All reality is transformed into a wonderful dream, without a life that is dreamed about or a mind that is having the dream—into a dream that is held together within a dream of itself.” (Fichte, The Vocation of Man.)

[6] For the person who believes our immediate experience of life is nothing but a dream, it does not matter whether he assumes nothing exists behind this dream, or whether he relates his ideas to actual things. In either case, life itself must lose all scientific interest for him. Science is meaningless to those who believe that the universe accessible to us is limited to a dream. However, for those who believe themselves able to reason from ideas to things, the task of science will be to inquire into the nature of these “things-in-themselves.”

The first of these theories of the world may be called Absolute Illusionism. The second is called Transcendental Realism* by its most consistent advocate, Eduard von Hartmann.

[7] These two views have this in common with Naive Realism; they all seek to establish a foothold in the world by investigating percepts. But nowhere in this realm can they find a firm base.

* [Note by Rudolf Steiner: In the context of this world-view, knowledge is called “transcendental” because it is believed that nothing can be asserted directly about the things-in-themselves. One must make indirect inferences from the subjective, which is known, to the unknown, which lies beyond the subjective (the transcendent). According to this view, the thing-in-itself exists beyond the realm of what is immediately accessible to our cognition; in other words, it is transcendent. However, our world can be related transcendentally to what is transcendent. Hartmann's theory is called Realism because it proceeds from the subjective, the mental, to the transcendent, the real.]

5.1 The Awakened State Of Thinking
[8] One of the most important questions for the adherent of Transcendental Realism must be: "How does the Ego produce the world of ideas out of itself?" A world given to us as ideas that will disappear as soon as we close our senses to the external world, can still kindle a serious striving for knowledge by providing the means for investigating indirectly the world of the self-existing Self. If the things of our experience were "ideas," then everyday life would be like a dream, and knowledge of the true situation would be like waking. Our dream-images, too, interest us only as long as we are dreaming, and so do not recognize them as dreams. But the moment we wake up, we no longer ask about the connections between our dream-images. Instead, we ask about the physical, physiological, and psychological processes that caused them.

In the same way, a philosopher who considers the world to be merely a picture in his mind, is not interested in how the details are interconnected. If he admits the existence of a real Ego at all, his question will not be how one of his ideas is related to another. Rather, he will ask what takes place in the psyche—that exists independently of his consciousness—while a certain flow of ideas passes through his consciousness. If I dream I am drinking wine that causes burning in my throat, and then wake up coughing (Weygandt, How Dreams Arise, 1893), the moment I wake up the dream sequence ceases to interest me. My attention is now directed only to the physiological and psychological processes through which the sore throat expresses itself symbolically in the dream.

Similarly, once the philosopher is convinced that the world given him consists of nothing but ideas, he will turn his interest from this world to the real psyche that exists behind it. The situation is far worse, to be sure, for the Illusionist who denies the existence of an Ego behind the "ideas," or at least regards this Ego to be unknowable.

We might very easily be led to such a view by observing that, in contrast to the dreaming state, there is the waking state. The waking state enables us to see through the dreams and relate them to real events. But there is no state that stands in a similar relationship to waking consciousness. Those who take this view fail to see that there is, in fact, something that relates to mere perceiving, in the same way our waking experience relates to dreaming. This something is—thinking.

5.2 Thought That Applies To The World
[9] The naive person cannot be accused of failure to see this. He accepts life as it is, and considers things to be real in the form they present themselves to him in experience. However, the first step to go beyond this standpoint can only be to ask: “How does thought relate to perception?” It makes no difference whether or not the percept that is given to me continues to exist in the same form before and after my depiction of it. If I wish to say anything about it, I can do so only with the help of thought. If I say “the world is my idea” I have expressed the result of a thought-process. If my thought does not apply to the world, then my result is false. Between a percept and every kind of judgment about it there intervenes thinking.

5.3 World Connects With Corresponding Concept
The reason why thought is generally overlooked during the contemplation of things has already been given (see Chapter 3). It is because we direct our full attention to the object we are thinking about, and not at the same time to our thinking itself. For this reason the naive mind treats thought as something that has nothing to do with things. Thinking stands completely apart from things and makes its theories about them. The theory that the thinker draws from the phenomena of the world is not considered as something integral to the things, but as something that exists only in the human head. For the naive, the world is complete without this theory. The world with all its substances and forces is supposed to be fixed and finished; and the human being makes himself a picture of this finished world.

Those who think like this should be asked: “By what right do you declare the world to be complete without thought? Does not the world cause thoughts in human minds with the same necessity as it causes blossoms on plants? Plant a seed in the soil. It puts forth root and stem. It unfolds into leaves and blossoms. Place the plant before you. It connects itself to a specific concept in your mind. Why does this concept belong any less to the whole plant than leaf and blossom?”

You reply: “The leaves and blossoms are there without a perceiving subject, while the concept only appears if a human being stands before the plant.” Quite true. But blossoms and leaves, too, only appear on the plant if there is soil in which the seed can be planted, and light and air in which leaves and blossoms can unfold. In just the same way the concept of a plant only arises when a thinking being approaches the plant.

5.4 Process Of Becoming
[11] It is entirely arbitrary to regard the sum of what we experience of a thing through perception alone, as a totality, a complete whole, while regarding what results from thoughtful contemplation as something incidental, that has nothing to do with the thing itself. If I am given a rosebud today, the picture that is there for my perception is finished, complete, but only for the present moment. If I put the bud in water, tomorrow I will get a very different picture of the object. And if I watch the rosebud without interruption, I will see today's state gradually change into tomorrow's through countless intermediate stages. The picture presented to me at any one moment is only a chance section taken from an object that is in a continuous process of becoming. If I do not put the bud in water, a whole series of states lying within it as potential will not develop. Or I may be prevented tomorrow from observing the blossom further, and will then have an incomplete picture of it.

[12] To declare the appearance of a thing revealed at a chance moment; "this is the thing" would be a biased judgment that clings to external features.

5.5 Indivisible Existence of Concept With Object
[13] Neither is it justifiable to declare the sum of a thing's perceptual appearances to be its full reality. It is conceivable that a mind could receive the concept at the same time as, and inseparably connected with the percept. It would never occur to such a mind that the concept did not belong to the object. It would attribute to the concept an existence indivisibly bound up with the object.

[14] Let me make myself clearer with an example. If I throw a stone horizontally through the air, I see it at different points, one after the other. I connect these points to form a line. In mathematics I learn to know various kinds of lines, one of them is the parabola. I know the parabola to be a line produced when a point moves according to a certain well-defined law. If I analyze the conditions under which the thrown stone moves, I find that the line of its flight is identical with the line I know as a parabola. The fact that the stone moves in a parabola is a consequence of the conditions given and follows necessarily from them. The form of the parabola belongs to the whole of the phenomenon, just as much as any of its other features.

The hypothetical mind described above, which does not have to take the roundabout route of thinking, would be given more than a sequence of visual impressions at different locations. At the outset it would also be given the parabolic form of the line of flight, inseparably united with the phenomenon. For us, the parabolic trajectory can only be added by thinking about the phenomenon.

[15] It is not due to the objects that they appear to us at first without their corresponding concepts, but to our mental organization. In the comprehension of an object or event, our whole being functions in such a way that the elements making up the reality of every real thing come to us from two sides—from perception and from thought.

[16] How I am organized to comprehend things has nothing to do with the nature of the things themselves. The divide between perception and thought only exists from the moment I, the observer, confront the objects. Which elements belong to the object, and which do not, cannot depend at all on the way I obtain my knowledge of these elements.

5.6 Isolate And Grasp Single Concepts
[17] Man is a limited being. First of all, he is a thing among other things. His existence is in space and time. Because of this, only a limited part of the whole universe can ever be given to him. But this limited part is linked in all directions with other things, both in time and in space. If our existence were so united with things that every world event was at the same time our event, there would be no distinction between us and the things. But then, too, there would be no individual things for us. Everything that happens would pass continuously one into the other. The cosmos would be a unity, a whole complete in itself. The stream of events would not be interrupted at any point.

Due to our limitations things appear to us as separate objects, when in fact they are not separate at all. For example, the individual quality of red never exists in isolation. It is surrounded on all sides by other qualities to which it belongs, and without which it could not exist. For us, however, it is necessary to isolate certain sections of the world, and to consider them on their own. Our eye can grasp only single colors one by one out of a multicolored whole. Our mind can grasp only single concepts out of an interconnected conceptual system. This separating-off is a subjective act. It is due to the fact that we are not identical with the world-process, but are individual things among other things.

5.7 Self Definition Through Thought
[18] The important question now is to define the relation of ourselves, as things, to all other things. This defining must be distinguished from merely becoming aware of our self. For self-awareness is based on perception, just like our awareness of any other thing. The perception of myself shows me a number of qualities that I bring together into the whole of my personality. In the same way I bring together the qualities yellow, metallic shine, hard, etc. into the unity “gold.” Self-perception does not take me beyond the region of what belongs to my self. So self-perception must be distinguished from self-definition by means of thinking.

Just as, by means of thinking, I integrate a single perception of the external world into the context of the world whole, so do I also, by thinking, integrate the perceptions I have of my self into the order of the world-process. Self-perception confines me within certain limits, but my thought is not concerned with these limits. In this sense I am a two-sided being. I am enclosed within the sphere that I perceive as my own personality, but I am also the possessor of an activity that defines my finite existence from a higher sphere.

Thought is not individual like our sensing and feeling. It is universal. Thought receives an individual stamp in each separate person only because it becomes related to his individual feeling and sensing. Due to these particular colorings of the universal thought, people differ from each other. There is only one single concept of "triangle." It does not matter for the content of this concept whether it is grasped in A's consciousness or in B's. But the content of this concept will be taken hold of by each of the two minds in its own individual way.

5.8 In Thinking We Are The Universal Being
[19] This thought is opposed by a common preconceived opinion that is difficult to overcome. This prejudice prevents one from recognizing that the concept of a triangle that my mind grasps is the same as the concept that my neighbor's mind grasps. The naive person believes himself to be the creator of his concepts. He consequently believes that everyone has his own concepts. It is a basic requirement of philosophical thought to overcome this prejudice. The one single concept of "triangle" does not become many concepts of "triangle" because it is thought by many minds. Rather, the thought of many becomes a single whole.

[20] In thought, we have the element that integrates our particular individuality into a unity with the whole of the cosmos. When we sense and feel (perceive) we are isolated individuals; when we think, we are the Universal Being that pervades everything. This is the deeper meaning of our two-sided nature. We become conscious of a purely absolute principle revealing itself within us, a principle that is universal. However, we experience it, not as it streams from the center of the world, but only at a point on the periphery. Were we to know it at its source, we would understand the whole riddle of the universe the moment we became conscious. But we stand at a point on the periphery and find our own existence confined within certain limits. So we must learn about the region that lies beyond our own being with the help of thought. Thought is the universal cosmic principle manifesting itself in our minds.

[21] The desire for knowledge arises because the thought in us, reaches out beyond our separate existence and relates itself to the universal world-order. Beings without thought do not have this desire to strive for knowledge. Whenever they encounter other things, they have no questions. These other things remain external to such beings. In the case of thinking beings, the concept leaps up in response to the external thing. The concept is the part of a thing that we receive, not from outside, but from within ourselves. To match up, to unite the two elements, inner and outer, gives us knowledge.

[22] The percept, then, is not something finished and complete. It is one side of the total reality. The other side is the concept. The act of cognition is the synthesis of percept and concept. Only the percept and concept together make up the whole thing.

5.9 World Unity Found In Ideal Content
[23] The preceding discussion shows conclusively that it is futile to seek for any common element in the separate things of the world, other than the ideal content provided by thinking. All attempts to find world-unity must fail, other than this coherent ideal content which we gain by the conceptual analysis of what we perceive.

Neither a personal God, nor force, nor matter, nor the blind, idealess will (Schopenhauer), can be accepted by us as the universal world-unity. All these principles belong only to a limited field of our observation. Personality we perceive only in ourselves, force and matter only in external things. As for the will, it can only be seen as the active expression of our own limited personality. Schopenhauer wants to avoid making "abstract" thought the bearer of world-unity, and seeks instead what appears to him as something immediately real. This philosopher believes we misjudge the world as long as we regard it as an "external" world:

"In fact, the sought-after meaning of the world, which is merely my idea, or the transition from mere idea in the mind of the cognizing subject to whatever else it may be besides this, would never be found if the investigator himself were no more than a purely cognizing subject (an angel’s head with wings but no body). But he is rooted in that world. He finds himself in it as an individual. That is to say, his knowledge, which supports and determines the whole world as idea, is after all given entirely through the medium of a body, whose affections, as shown, are the starting point for the understanding of the world. For the purely cognizing subject, this body is an idea like every other idea, an object among objects. The movements and actions of his own body are known to him in the same way as the changes of all other observable objects. They would be just as strange and incomprehensible to him if their meaning were not made clear to him in an entirely different way.... 

To the cognizing subject, who becomes an individual only through his identity with the body, this body is given in two very distinct ways. First it is given as an idea for intelligent consideration, as an object among objects and subject to the same laws of these objects. Second, and at the same time, it is given in an entirely different way, as that element known directly by everyone and is described by the term ‘will’. Every true act of will is at once and without exception also a movement of the body. He cannot will an action without at the same time perceiving it as a movement of his body. The act of will and the action of the body are not two different, objectively known things linked by the tie of causality. Their relationship is not one of cause and effect. They are one and the same thing, but are given in two entirely different ways—once directly and once in perception for the intelligence to understand it.” (The World as Will and Idea)

With this analysis, Schopenhauer considers himself justified to see in the body the “objectivity” of the will. He is convinced that in the actions of the body he has a direct experience of reality, the thing-in-itself in the concrete. Against this analysis, we must point out that the actions of our body only come to our awareness through self-observation. The percepts we obtain of ourselves have no advantage over other percepts. If we wish to know their real nature, we can do so only by means of thought, by organizing them into the ideal system of our concepts and ideas.

5.10 Corresponding Intuition
[24] Rooted very deeply in the naive mind is the opinion that thinking is abstract, without any concrete content. At best, we are told, it supplies a "conceptual" counterpart of a unified world, but never the unity itself. Whoever believes this has never clearly recognized what a percept without its concept really is. Let us take a look at this world of perception by itself. It appears as a mere juxtaposition of elements in space and a sequence of changing elements in time, an aggregate of unconnected details. None of these things that come and go on the perceptual stage appears to have any connection with any other. Here, the world is a multiplicity of objects of equal value. None plays a more important part in the machinery of the world than any other.

If we are to recognize that this or that fact has greater significance than another, we must consult our thought. As long as we do not think, a rudimentary organ of an animal that has no significance for its survival, appears equal in value to the most important part of its body. The meaning of single facts, both in themselves and in their relation to other parts of the world, only becomes apparent when thought weaves its threads from one thing to another. This activity of thinking is filled with content. For it is only through a very specific, concrete content that I can know why a snail is at a lower level of development than a lion. Sight alone, the perception, provides me with no content that could inform me as to the degree of perfection of the organism.

[25] Thinking contributes this content to the percept from the world of concepts and ideas. In contrast to the content of perception given to us from outside, the content of thought appears within our minds. The form in which thought first appears in consciousness we will call "intuition." Intuition is to thoughts what observation is to percepts. Intuition and observation are the sources of our knowledge.

Anything we observe in the world remains unintelligible to us, until the corresponding intuition arises within us which adds that part of reality missing in the percept. Full reality remains closed off to anyone without the ability to supply the relevant intuitions corresponding to things. Just as the color-blind sees only differences of brightness without color qualities, so the mind that lacks intuition sees only disconnected perceptual fragments.

[26] To explain a thing and make it understandable, means nothing other than to place it into the context from which it has been torn due to the nature of our organization, as already described. Nothing exists in isolation from the world-whole. All separateness has only subjective relevance for minds organized like ours. For us, the world-whole splits into above and below, before and after, cause and effect, object and idea, matter and force, object and subject and so forth. What appears to us in observation as separate details, become linked, item by item, through the coherent, unified system of our intuitions. By means of thought we fit together again into one whole all that perception has separated.

[27] The puzzling nature of an object is due to the separateness of its existence. However, this separation is brought about by us and can, within the conceptual world, be dispelled and returned to unity again.

5.11 Conceptual Connections Of Percepts
[28] Only through thinking and perceiving are things given to us directly. The question now arises: "Viewed in the light of our discussion, what is the significance of the percept?" We have learned that Critical Idealism’s proof of the subjective nature of percepts, collapses. But the fact that the proof is incorrect does not necessarily mean the theory itself is incorrect. Critical Idealism’s proof does not take its start from the absolute nature of thought. Rather, it is based on the fact that Naive Realism, when followed to its logical conclusion, contradicts itself. But how does the matter stand when the absoluteness of thought is recognized?

[29] Let us suppose a certain percept—red, for example—appears in my consciousness. Further investigation will show this percept to be connected to other percepts, such as a specific shape, and to certain percepts of temperature and touch. I call this combination of percepts “an object in the sense-perceptible world.” I can go on to ask: "What else is found in this section of space?" There I discover mechanical, chemical and other processes. I go further and study the processes that take place on the way from the object to my sense-organs. There I find processes of motion in an elastic medium that by their nature have nothing in common with the original percepts. I get the same result when I investigate the connections between the sense-organs and the brain. In each of these inquiries I gather new percepts, but the connecting thread that weaves through all these percepts dispersed in space and time, and binds them into one whole—is thought.

The vibrations in the air that transmit sound are given to me as percepts in just the same way as the sound itself. Thought alone links all these percepts to each other, and shows them in their mutual relationships. We cannot speak of the existence of anything beyond what is directly perceived, except what is recognized as the conceptual connections between percepts. These connections are discovered by thinking. Therefore, the relationship between the objects we perceive and ourselves as perceiving subject that goes beyond what is merely perceived—is purely ideal, that is, it is expressed only by means of concepts.

Only if it were possible to perceive how the object affects the perceiving subject, or—conversely—only if I could watch the construction of the percept by the subject, could we speak like physiology and the critical idealism based on it. Their view confuses a conceptual relationship (between object and subject) with a process we could speak of only if it were possible to perceive it. The proposition, "no color without a color-sensing eye" cannot be taken to mean that the eye produces the color, but only that a conceptual connection, knowable by thinking, exists between the percept "color" and the percept "eye."

Empirical science will have to determine, through research, how the properties of the eye and those of color relate to each other; how the organ of sight transmits the perception of colors, etc. I can track how one percept follows another and how they are related in space. I can then express this in conceptual terms. But I cannot perceive how a percept originates out of the non-perceptible. All attempts to find anything other than conceptual relationships between percepts must necessarily fail.

5.12 The Memory-Idea
[30] What, then, is a percept? Asked in this general way, the question is absurd. A percept always appears as a very specific, concrete content. This content is directly given and is completely contained in what is given. All that can be asked about this given content, is: "What is it apart from perception—that is, what is it for thought?" The question concerning the "what" of a percept can only refer to the conceptual intuition that corresponds to it.

Viewed from this perspective, the problem of the subjectivity of perception put forward by Critical Idealists, cannot be raised at all. Only what is perceived as belonging to the subject can be termed "subjective." To establish the connection between what belongs to the subject and what belongs to the object is not the task of any process that is “real” in the naive sense, that is, a process that can be perceived taking place. It is the task of thinking.

For us, then, something is "objective" when it is seen to be located outside myself as perceiving subject. The percept of myself as subject remains perceptible to me after the table now standing before me has disappeared from my field of observation. The observation of the table has caused a change in me that persists like myself. I preserve an image of the table which now forms part of my Self. I retain a lasting ability to reproduce an image of the table again, later. Psychology calls this image a “memory-idea.”

It is the only thing that can properly be called my idea of the table. For it is the perceptible change in me caused by the table when it was in my field of vision. It does not mean a change in some "Ego-in-itself" standing behind the perceived subject, but rather a change in the perceptible subject itself. The idea is, then, a subjective percept, in contrast to the objective percept that occurs when the object is present in the field of one’s vision. Falsely identifying the subjective percept as the objective percept leads to the misunderstanding of Idealism that “the world is my idea.”

[31] Our next task will be to define the concept of "idea" in detail. What we have said about it so far is not its concept. We have only described where in the perceptual field ideas are to be found. The exact concept of "idea" will also make it possible for us to obtain a satisfactory understanding of the relationship between the inner idea and outer object. This will take us across the boundary, where the relationship between the human subject and the object in the world is brought down from the purely conceptual field of knowledge into concrete, individual life. Once we know what to make of the world, it will be an easy task to orient ourselves within it. We can act with our full strength and conviction only when we understand the things to which we direct our activity.

1918 Addition
[1] The view I have outlined here can be regarded as one to which a person is naturally driven as soon as he begins to reflect on his relationship to the world. He then finds himself entangled in a thought-structure that unravels as fast as he builds it up. Merely to refute it theoretically is not enough.

We have to live through it in inner experience, so that insight into the aberration this way of thinking leads can enable us to find the way out. It must appear in any discussion of the relationship between man and the world. Not because we want to refute others whom we believe have an incorrect view of this relationship, but because it is necessary to understand the confusion every first reflection about this relationship is likely to lead. One needs to learn by experience how to refute oneself with regard to these first reflections. This is the point of view from which the preceding chapter was meant to be seen.

[2] Anyone who wishes to work out a way of looking at the relationship of man to the world, becomes aware of the fact that he creates this relationship, at least in part, by forming ideas about the things and events in the world. This draws his attention away from what is out there in the world, and directs it to his inner world, to his life of ideas. He begins to say to himself: “I cannot relate to a thing or an event unless an idea occurs in me.” Once this fact has been noticed, it is only one step to the opinion, “All I experience are my ideas. I know of a world outside me only to the extent it is an idea within me.” And with this, man abandons the naive attitude toward reality, which he assumes before he begins to think about his relationship to the world.

From the naive standpoint, he believes he is dealing with real things. Inner reflection drives him away from this view. It prevents him from looking out at the real world naive consciousness believes is there, spread out before us. Inner reflection turns his gaze toward his ideas. These ideas insert themselves between his own being and a real world of the kind believed in by the naive consciousness. Because of the intervening ideas, man can no longer see such a real world. He assumes he is blind to this reality. So the thought arises of a “thing-in-itself” that cannot be reached by our cognition.

There is no escape from this kind of thought as long as we continue to focus solely on the interaction man has with the world through the stream of his ideas. Yet we cannot remain at the naive standpoint if we do not wish to close our minds, artificially, to the desire for knowledge. The very existence of this desire for knowledge about man's relationship to the world shows that the naive standpoint must be abandoned. If the naive standpoint gave us anything that we could recognize as truth, we would not feel this desire for knowledge.

Yet we do not arrive at something else which could be regarded as truth by merely abandoning the naive standpoint, as long as we retain—without realizing it—the way of thinking it imposes. We fall victim to this kind of error if we think: “I only experience my ideas, and while I am firmly persuaded that I am dealing with reality, all that I am actually conscious of are my ideas of reality. I must therefore assume that genuine reality, the things-in-themselves, exist only outside the range of my consciousness. I know nothing of them directly, but they somehow come into contact with me and influence me to make a world of ideas arise in me.” Whoever thinks in this way is simply adding another imagined world, in thought, to the world already spread out before him. But in regard to this imagined world, he would really have to start his whole thought activity all over again. For, in relation to his own being, the unknown thing-in-itself is thought of in exactly the same way as the known world of the naive view.

There is only one way of escaping the confusion one falls into when critically assessing this naive standpoint. This is to notice that at the very core of everything we can perceptually experience, be it in the mind or outside in the world, there is something that can prevent the fate of an idea inserting itself between the observer and the thing observed. And this something is thinking. With regard to thinking, we can remain at the Naive Realistic standpoint of reality. If we fail to do so, it is simply because we have learned that for everything else we must abandon this standpoint. We overlook that what we have found to be true for everything else, does not apply to thinking. When we realize this, we open the way to the further insight that in thinking and through thinking, man comes to know the very thing to which he apparently blinded himself by inserting the stream of his ideas between the world and himself.

A critic highly esteemed by the author of this book has objected that this discussion of thinking remains at the level of a Naive Realism of thinking, such as would be the case if the real world and the imagined world were held to be one and the same. However, the author believes he has shown in this discussion that an unprejudiced study of thinking, inevitably leads to the recognition that applying Naive Realism to thinking is valid. And that Naive Realism, which is otherwise not valid, is overcome through knowledge of the true nature of thinking.


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© Tom Last 2017